Deal clears the way for NPR-A development

An agreement between two federal agencies announced Monday leaves just one formal step before the National Petroleum Reserve Alaska – or NPR-A – is open for development.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has refused to allow Conoco Philips to access the area via a bridge across the Colville River. That’s because the Environmental Protection Agency had declared the Colville an Aquatic Resource of National Importance.

The agreement between the EPA and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service declares a bridge across the river as the preferred alternative for accessing the reserve. Final approval by the Corps of Engineers is expected within a few weeks. That will allow Conoco to begin working on leases it holds in the CD-5 oilfield on the North Slope.

Alaska Senator Lisa Murkowski says the agreement is great news.

“For years we have been talking about the potential available within the NPR-A. So to finally be on the way where Conoco will be able to advance a bridge over the Colville River – to get to the other side – is very welcome news,” says Murkowski.

Conoco-Philips’ spokeswoman Natalie Lowman says the agreement is a positive step. But without final approval she couldn’t say when work would get underway in the CD-5 field.

“Because we haven’t seen the permit or its conditions, we can’t really say when we would start. But receiving this permit is one of the key steps in order to receive the go-ahead to sanction the project,” Lowman say.

Murkowski says she spoke with Interior Secretary Ken Salazar, who assured her that the EPA is no longer objecting to the development. Though she says it remains to be seen what conditions the agency puts on its final approval.

“We are very hopeful that there will be no surprises with these conditions once we learn the exact nature of them,” says Murkowski.

Congressman Don Young welcomed the agreement, but added – quote – “It should have happened sooner.” And Senator Mark Begich praised Conoco-Philips and the Interior Department for continuing to work toward a deal. He said “Alaska’s oil and gas industry needs to hear some good news on the development front.”